Allen boosting offensive game in pursuit of everyday role

February 29th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- Bringing elite defense whenever he took the field at shortstop, the only thing that stopped from truly establishing himself at the Major League level in 2023 was an inconsistent bat.

Despite producing several defensive gems for the A’s, Allen was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas on April 15 and again on June 6 because of struggles at the plate. Called back up for good on July 4, he finished the season with a .550 OPS that ranked last among all Major League shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances.

If Allen is ever going to solidify himself as a regular, he knows it will require better production. That’s why he decided to change things up this offseason.

Instead of heading home to San Diego to train, Allen relocated to Arizona and worked out at Driveline Baseball in Scottsdale, a facility where pitchers and hitters go to work on adjustments to their game through data-driven analysis. Upon arrival, Allen underwent an assessment with motion capture technology that reviewed biomechanics and rotational speeds of his swing. The results revealed a lack of natural movement from his lower body to his upper body was affecting his ability to make consistent quality contact.

“I got that information and realized that I didn’t have a good amount of separation,” Allen said before Oakland’s 7-4 win over the Giants on Wednesday. “I don’t need to force it to get too much power. I just need to make sure that the lower half is working before my upper half, then be able to stop and allow my upper half to go.”

Looking back on his ‘23 campaign, Allen said his main issue was dealing with higher-velocity pitches.

“With lower velocity, I was able to get the bat head there,” Allen said. “But last year, I was catching a lot of things deeper [against high-velocity pitches], and that led to a lot of ground balls. It was just the multitude of just figuring my whole body out. I think that’s the whole thing. Lower half being able to work the way it needs to work, and upper half being able to do what it needs to do.”

Spending four days a week at Driveline from late October through December, the staff formulated a plan for Allen that incorporated drills designed to help increase his bat speed. Around early January, he took what he learned and set up training at the A’s Minor League complex in Mesa to work on adding muscle and improving his overall conditioning with A’s strength and conditioning coach Josh Cuffe.

In the extremely small sample size of Oakland’s first few Cactus League games, Allen’s adjustments seem to be paying dividends. He was 3-for-6 over his first three contests, which included an impressive two-hit day in Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Guardians that saw him rope a pair of triples, including one on a fastball up and away.

“I’ve been seeing the ball well,” Allen said. “I haven’t been as comfortable as I want, but it’s slowly progressing each at-bat. I like how the ball is coming off my bat. It’s better, true ball flight rather than slicing.”

Allen entered camp atop the A’s depth chart at shortstop, though he does face some competition from Darell Hernaiz, Oakland’s No. 9 ranked prospect, a shortstop who is also in the mix at third base this spring. If these newfound hitting mechanics can continue translating to games, on top of his supreme defensive capabilities, Allen should have an opportunity to seize the everyday job at shortstop for 2024 and beyond.

“My goal this year is to have a better offensive year and to establish myself in the big leagues,” Allen said. “Find my way to be an everyday guy and help the team win. I know my hitting is catching up [to my defense]. I just have to allow it to.”

Solid debuts for Blackburn, Medina

and each made their Cactus League debuts on Wednesday, combining for four innings of one-run ball.

Blackburn, who started the game, worked two innings, with his lone blemish being a homer surrendered to J.D. Davis. He pounded the zone consistently, with 22 of his 33 pitches landing for strikes.

While Blackburn has a secure spot in the rotation, Medina finds himself battling for the final spot. In his first audition this spring, Medina worked a pair of scoreless innings with three strikeouts and one walk, showing off an electric fastball that touched 100 mph multiple times, including a 101 mph fastball that froze Tom Murphy for strike three to end the top of the fourth.